SMU gets a break from the conference slate when it plays host to Houston Baptist on Saturday.
Houston Baptist, a former NAIA power, is in its first season playing at the NCAA Division I level. The Huskies have a 3-13 record, including a 14-point loss to Rice earlier in the season.
The Mustangs will look to ride the hot shooting of senior guard Derek Williams (10-for-16 from the field against Rice) and junior forward Papa Dia (7-for-8 from the floor), especially if senior forward Mouhammad Faye is out again after missing three games for an undisclosed reason. With Faye back in the fold, SMU should dominate the boards and get put-back opportunities. He also would help SMU limit Houston Baptist's second-chance opportunities.
Without Faye, sophomore forward Frank Otis needs to do a better job than he did against Rice, when he got into foul trouble and only played 20 minutes, grabbing six rebounds and scoring one point before exiting.
SMU 73, RICE 65: The Mustangs (7-10, 1-3 Conference USA) did a good job of shaking off what could have been a devastating loss in their previous game, shooting 51 percent from the field and pulling away down the stretch for an eight-point win over the Owls (6-13, 0-4). After blowing a 24-point second-half lead in a 63-62 loss to UAB on Jan. 16, coach Matt Doherty's team got big performances from senior guard Derek Williams, sophomore forward Robert Nyakundi and junior forward Papa Dia.
Williams scored a game-high 22 points, and Dia added 21 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the field and 7-of-9 shooting from the foul line. He also added a team-best nine rebounds. Nyakundi logged a season-high 26 minutes before fouling out. His long-range shooting helped produce three 3-pointers, and he heated up late in the game, scoring 10 of his 13 points in the final 6:48.
The win was SMU's fourth in the past five meetings over the Owls in a rivalry that dates back to 1918-19 and spans 189 games. The loss was Rice's sixth in a row.
--The frustration is mounting with the SMU basketball program. If blowing a 24-point second-half lead and having your leading scorer miss a potential game-winning layup with one second left weren't enough, the Mustangs had to watch UAB players pour salt in the wound on Jan. 16.
Moments after UAB's 63-62 come-from-behind win, SMU coach Matt Doherty got into a shouting match with Blazers coach Mike Davis. Doherty felt the Blazers were a bit excessive in their postgame celebration and he wasn't shy about drawing from happier times in his career to try to make his point.
"I've been in a lot of games, big-time games," Doherty told the Dallas Morning News. "I've beat Duke at Duke, UConn when they were No. 5 in the country. To me, there's a way to handle it. When you're on the road, I don't think you rub it in people's faces."
His star player, Derek Williams, took a different approach.
"You could say that's not classy but (we) put ourselves in that situation," Williams said. "And we would probably be doing the same thing." Doing the same thing would require the Mustangs to hold on down the stretch in close games and win. SMU's first three losses came to teams hovering around the top of the league standings -- UTEP, Tulsa and UAB -- by a combined 12 points. "We should be used to situations like this," Williams said.
--SMU shot 54.8 percent from the floor in a Jan. 16 loss to UAB. It was the Mustangs' second-best shooting performance of the season (65.3 percent vs. North Carolina Central was the best) and the highest shooting percentage SMU has had since joining C-USA.
--SMU committed just five turnovers in a loss Jan. 13 to Tulsa, then turned around to cough it up 16 times in a loss Jan. 16 to UAB. SMU averages 13.4 turnover per game this season.
ON THE SPOT: With senior F Mouhammad Faye again out of the lineup, the Mustangs allowed Rice to hit its season average of 65 points by giving up 12 offensive rebounds and getting outrebounded 36-26 for the game. SMU was fortunate the Owls made only 40 percent of their shots from the floor (22 of 55) and 21.7 percent from 3-point range (five of 23). SMU's defense had held its first three conference opponents 18.5 points below their scoring average. Without Faye, the Mustangs become even more guard-dominated with only one consistent rebounder -- junior F Papa Dia.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We had the game. We had them beat. Right now, it just feels funny because I'm like, 'How does that happen?'" -- F Papa Dia, in the Dallas Morning News, after a Jan. 16 loss to UAB in which his team blew a 24-point second-half lead.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP:The Mustangs had chances to win against UTEP, UAB and Tulsa, but they couldn't close out the games.
SMU 78, North Carolina Central 50
Tulsa 63, SMU 56
UAB 63, SMU 62
SMU 73, Rice 65
vs. Houston Baptist, Saturday, Jan. 23
vs. Central Florida, Wednesday, Jan. 27
vs. Memphis, Saturday, Jan. 30
at Southern Miss, Tuesday, Feb. 2
IN FOCUS: The Mustangs hope to get a feel-good, dominating win Jan. 23 against a Houston Baptist team that earned its third win of the season on Jan. 16. Sure, it isn't a C-USA game, but right now SMU wouldn't mind another win to help its confidence.
--Senior G Derek Williams had a team-best 23 points in the Mustangs' 63-62 loss to UAB. However, he missed a layup with one second left that helped UAB escape with an improbable victory. The Blazers had trailed 50-26 with 14:41 remaining before mounting a furious rally. Williams bounced back to score 22 points Wednesday against Rice.
--Senior F Mouhammad Faye missed the win over Rice for undisclosed reasons. He had missed a couple of games earlier with a shoulder injury.
--Sophomore F Robert Nyakundi set a season high in minutes played Wednesday, lasting 26 minutes before fouling out. He had been hampered by injuries for most of this season. Nyakundi scored 13 points in the 73-65 win and has scored eight-plus points in each game in which he has played longer than 15 minutes this season.